Call time: 6:30 am. Mass: 3 pm. Current time: 6:30 am.
“Manong, Gate 2 po,” the boy said, checking on his watch in frantic glances.
The cab was slowing down, unsure where Gate 2 was and where the school gates were at all. The couple at the cab faced outside. At Don Bosco Gate 2 entrance, the iron bars were closed and lights were turned off. At the back of the girl’s head, they had gone off, started their pilgrimage to Luneta to secure a communal space for the Bosconian community. They’ve gone, she thought.
He was fishing bills out from his pocket ready to pay when he changed his mind. “Gate 3 nalang po.”
Time check 6:32. Gate 3 was open. And so were a few lights and the eyes of a number of people – boys, girls, kids – all in white with a shirt that says Don Bosco ❤ Pope Francis.
Assembly was inside the school. He hadn’t felt welcome there since elementary. His last Alumni Homecoming was quite a blur. She hadn’t been there either since high school on her first ever Marian Rally event. It had been a while, indeed.
Noise filled the lobby with a couple of murmurs they couldn’t quite make out. Then one line became prominent, “Uy yung mga Ampon!*”
Many carried similar plastic bags with similar contents: a bottle of water, some crackers, and a sandwich wrapped in tissue. Others carried clear hand bags. While one stood out with a homemade backpack made from plastic cover.
Father tried to calm the noise. “Whatever prayer we make right now, if you don’t keep quiet- if you don’t listen, it won’t work.” And there was dead calm.
“St. John Bosco,” offered the priest.
“Pray for us,” was the firm chorus of reply. The collected voice of boys looming. Their right hand on their left chest.
“Pray for us.” There went the patriotic – if not religious – gesture again.
“Serve the Lord.”
“With holy joy!” From the hand on their chest, their hand went up as in proud praise.
6.1 kilometers walked, with constant chatter to keep everyone awake. Walked from Makati, to possibly Pasay, to Manila where honking cars were suddenly silenced and stores closed. People walked in one direction like soldier ants reporting to the queen.
At one point, one of the Ampon, saw three old ladies merging in the line of Bosconian pilgrims, “Uy chicks!**”
Current time: 8 am.
The priest who led the pilgrimage had to stop the group for an unfortunate announcement. “This is it. We cannot enter Grandstand anymore. We cannot pass Luneta anymore. If you want to see the Pope – at least something – our best option is here,” he pointed to the stack of LCD monitors. “But if you want to brave the crowd, you’re free to check there. You’re free to go.”
The couple went, braved the thick crowd, but eventually joined those who were turning back hoping to find another spot they could glimpse the Holy See along the barricades in Roxas Boulevard.
They set up thin sheets of paper and bag on the pavement beside an old man eating corn on the cob. “Ayan, habang maaga pa. Mamayang alas tres pa naman dadaan yan e.”
The old man brought with him a Sto. Nino wearing baby clothes – the type that buttoned on the crotch. He sat eye level with the Sto. Nino constantly waving off the string of a woman’s jacket that was touching his Sto. Nino’s hand. She was standing in front of where he sat.
Along the stone and iron barricades were people: grandmas with their grandkids, big and small families, a father supporting his little boy sitting on the barricade, a woman who brought her own stool, an old couple carrying a Chowking takeout plastic, a priest in civilian clothing, a guy with a Jollibee face tattoo on the back of his hand, a group of friends who didn’t bring an umbrella, a little too rude Tres Marias who was too proud they got an umbrella, and the couple who eventually got into a heated debate because of that umbrella.
Current time: 10 am.
“It’s better that it’s drizzling than the day being too hot,” said the boy as he leaned back to back with the girl.
The police had lined up in front of the barricade sending false alarms to the people, making a handful of them stand up and sit back down again in disappointment.
They had been stationed there only with a bottle of water and the generosity of those of their kind who brought Fudgee Barr and biscuits.
“You’re lucky you’ll see the pope up close,” said the one behind the barricade.
“Di rin,” replied the police.
The girl became cautious of screams, which were usually false alarms anyway like fan girl cries for a news reporter walking down the open road where the pope mobile would run or were simply noise from the speakers where the LCD screens were. So she tried to sleep. She tucked her head between her knees and under her cap. She raised her arm though, making sure she held his hand and he held hers.
From this view, she saw the cob of a corn and a can of Pepsi left there. Whoever owned those, they were now public trash. She also saw half a hotdog accumulating dust on the pavement. When she looked up where the hotdog was, it was the Jollibee tattoo she saw.
She could hear him click his tongue against the roof of his mouth. She could feel him twitch and shift his legs in discomfort. She looked up, “Daijoubu?” Are you okay?
He directed her gaze to a purple umbrella that cupped the rain and directly poured on his arm.
“Padala ba yan ni Mayor?” Is that from Mayor? The police was asking the cola vendor. Silence obviously meant no.
Lunch time came and the food ration for the police also came. They had made friends with the people who lined the barrier, so they showed their food: a clean Styrofoam container with three partitions: one for rice, the other for the fried head of a Tilapia fish, and the other partition for the hope that their food would be better.
“Mas masarap pa pagkain ng preso. Tinitimplahan pa yun.”
The guy with the Jollibee tattoo easily made friends with the police, the Tres Marias, and everybody else beside him. “Ser, gusto niyo hotdog?” He offered the police. He opened his packed lunch and the police fished out a hotdog from his pile. “Salamat.”
The rain continued to pour sending the father and his kid sitting on the barricade home and leaving a couple of people to wonder why the Tres Marias had brought an umbrella. This continued until 2:30 pm. People bathed under the rain with the humble protection of a cap, the innovative guard made of plastic and sack, and the furious envy toward the Tres Marias’ umbrella.
Several false alarms that the Holy See had come sent people screaming “Get that umbrella down!”
“Is he here yet?” was the defensive rebuttal of the Tres Marias.
“Bawal payong ‘di ba?” Umbrellas were forbidden.
“It’s not our fault you’re bathing under the rain and we’re not!”
“That’s a priest you’re talking to already,” said the boy.
The boy laughed suppressing his hatred. “Kaya nga Mercy and Compassion e.”
“Tawa naman tong katabi ko. Palibhasa galit na galit sa payong ko.”
She grabbed the boy’s arm and hugged it. The rain was pouring and the wind cold. There were already too many things to consider a problem. This was not to be added to that list.
“Ready yourselves, men,” said the chief of police. “’Pag ‘di kayo humarap sa labas, ‘di kayo pulis.”
The Holy See was coming. Everyone readied their cameras and cellphones. “I’ll lend you my phone. Take a video for me, too,” pleaded one policeman to a civilian.
The guy with the Jollibee tattoo took out his DSLR camera from inside his jacket. He made sure to spread his elbows out to make his video stable. He had panned his camera from left to right, hitting the girl on his right.
It was a tingly sensation for the girl. The screams, she had thought, were ominous – which the boy found rather odd. But there was nothing bad that had happened when she had glanced the pope from possibly only three seconds. It was later on that she realized that she didn’t particularly enjoy huge crowds, so ominous was the word she used to describe the coming of the pope.
The boy on the other hand was excited. He had shouted “Gratias Papa!” when the pope mobile went by. He also continued to sing “Bien Venidos Papa Francisco” at the sight of a sign that said Bien Venidos Papa Francisco.
Most people at the barricade crowded to the nearest exit, walking over plastics, food, and empty bags of chips. They walked home. What jeepney driver would give a ride to passengers drenched by the rain anyway?
Current time: 2:40 pm.
The girl was sure her soul was willing but that her flesh was weak. But she proved that both were strong enough just because one was willing enough. They walked home under the drizzle. 3.3 kilometers.
* Ampon is a term the Don Bosco community use on street children it has taken in and taken care of. The kids don’t mind the term either.
** Chicks is slang/cheese-talk for “girls.”